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Malnutrition a dangerous threat to Yemeni childhoods

National Yemen

Malnutrition … Danger Threat Yemeni Childhood

By:  Asma Al-Mohattwari

Though she was hardly able to comprehend such rapid changes at the time, at the age of thirteen Amina transitioned from a simple childhood to a life of marriage and responsibility. Her new life was difficult, to say the least.

As her father was so poor and her mother was sick,, she alone was left to take care of her children.

She and her family initially felt very happy when a man asked to take Amina’s hand in marriage. Her father thought about the happy life her daughter would have the man said she would have better food, drink and clothes than he could provide for her.

Her parents forgot or ignored all the responsibilities their daughter’s new life would bring. Amina was a very beautiful child bride. She was married with a smile painted on her lips, but her fate awaited with new forms of suffering.

In addition to the household chores which were carried out by Amina, big, sudden news arrived when she learned that she was pregnant.

During her pregnancy, she faced many difficulties because she was still so young and also because she hadn’t received proper nutrition or suitable health care. Dr. Zeinab Al-Kazzan, a Gynecologist at Al-Jomhori Hospital, said that when paired, early pregnancy and malnutrition could cause anemia and excessive bleeding at birth, as sometimes leads to the loss of life either for the mother or fetus.

When Amina gave birth, she lost a great deal of blood. She was pronounced dead at age 14, and left behind a baby suffering from anemia. With a lack of resources and without access to a pediatrician, after one month Ahmed moved in with his mother to receive assistance in raising the child.

Alarming statistics

Although 75% of Yemen’s population lives in rural areas, the absence of modern healthcare and a dependence on traditional methods prevails in such places. Many families hide away what amount to thousands of children who suffer from malnutrition, while many babies who are born malnourished live for several days and then die.

Yemen’s alarmingly high child mortality rates come as a result of various factors. 25% of Yemeni children under the age of five are underweight as a result of malnutrition.

A UNICEF Yemen Situation Report for September 2012 estimated that children under the age of five suffered from a normal chronic malnutrition rate of 16.7%, a seriously underweight rate of 24.4%, and a critically acute malnutrition rate of 18.9%. These figures add up to a total of 47% for Yemeni children under the age of five.

Surveys performed in Hajja and Hodeida confirmed that 30-40% of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition, with 43% of children underweight at the national level. It’s estimated that there are around 967,000 children who suffer from acute malnutrition, with malnutrition rates exceeding the alarming 30% mark in certain parts of the country.

After Afghanistan, Yemen is classified as the country with the second-highest malnutrition rates in the world. According to official statistics, Yemen’s population currently stands at more than 25 million, with children representing about 27 % from the total population.

Causes of malnutrition

As in the case of Amina and her baby, many Yemeni mothers and their children don’t receive proper medical care and attention.

UNICEF Representative in Yemen Geert Cappelaere said that child malnutrition in Yemen can be traced to a lack of necessary nutrients in food to aid children’s growth. “The low rates of pure breastfeeding for children during the first 6 months, as well as harmful traditional practices such as child marriage and poverty, are also reasons behind child malnutrition,” he added.

Poor water services and sanitation also contribute to incidences of malnutrition. In many places in Yemen, children don’t drink clean water while basic health services are largely lacking.

Studies have confirmed that malnutrition and water pollution contributes to 22% of the mortality rate of children under the age of 15 in countries throughout the world. In addition, malnutrition can lead to low birth weights.

Malnutrition refers to an inadequate consumption of food, which can result in the emergence of various eating disorders, depending on which of those ingredients are overly-represented or absent in a person’s diet.

Exceptions, not rules

Last year, a child named Uday, 4 years and 10 months old, and who weighed only 10 kg, was cured of malnutrition after receiving necessary medical care. But that same medical care hasn’t been received by hundreds of thousands of malnourished children in various Yemeni governorates.

Dr. Al-Kazzan said her hospital receives many cases of children suffering from malnutrition, and that some are cured and others left dead because they arrived too late.  “The problem is not with women who give birth in the hospital, because we take care of it – the real problem is with women who come from villages and arrived too late,” she said.

Cappelaere said that Yemen should deal with this problem by working to provide clean drinking water, adequate sanitation, and quality basic education for all boys and girls, with an emphasis on girls’ education.

“We must provide appropriate food for children and increase awareness among the general public and especially mothers about the importance of breastfeeding during the first six months,” he added.

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